Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Daniel E. Sickles, Gettysburg, and the Medal of Honor

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

You all know and love Daniel E. Sickles, right? He was a Union general with very strong political connections who had once gotten away with murder by pleading temporary insanity - the first ever to do so.

At the Battle of Gettysburg, Sickles was severely wounded on July 2 and was carried (smirking and puffing on a cigar) from the field - his shattered leg was amputated soon afterward. Thirty-Four years later, Sickles was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. But...did he deserve it? That question remains to be answered.

Here's the dope. Dan Sickles commanded the Union III corps. On July 2, the second day of battle, he was ordered by Army of the Potomac commander George Gordon Meade into position in the famous "fishhook" line along Cemetery Ridge at the base of Little Round Top.

Well...Sickles was not too thrilled with the idea - just to his front, there stood a peach orchard on slightly higher ground. Sickles thought this the more advantageous position so....he advanced his corps forward - against orders. Now this may seem like a good idea. Defending high ground is generally easier to do than not. But his move left 1) a big fat hole in the Union line and 2) the III Corps was now vulnerable from three sides. In the end - Sickles's Corps was nearly destroyed and he was heavily criticized for insubordination - some even spoke of court martial...but his wound got him off the hook. Lucky break, so to speak.

But historians have since reconsidered Sickles's move. In a sense, the forward positioning blunted the attack from Longstreeet's Confederate I Corps - slowing it down long enough for the Union line to shore up the defense of Little Round Top and close the deal on the Rebs for July 2.

Sickles would have enthusiastically agreed. For decades after the battle he conducted an interpretive campaign against general Meade - claiming that Meade had wanted to retreat from Gettysburg. According to Sickles, it was the III Corps (and naturally, himself) that saved the battle for the Union and - it seems - the war.

Well, Sickles's persistence and political connections eventually won the day. In 1897 he was awarded the Medal of Honor by having "Displayed most conspicuous gallantry on the field vigorously contesting the advance of the enemy and continuing to encourage his troops after being himself severely wounded."

This is only a small (but extremely important) part of the long and storied life/career of Daniel E. Sickles. He died in 1914 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. If you want to find out more about him - check out The American Scoundrel by Thomas Keneally.




  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keith Harris, Keith Harris. Keith Harris said: Daniel E. Sickles, Gettysburg, and the Medal of Honor http://cosmicamerica.com/?p=539 [...]

  2. What - no mention of Sickles leg? Of how he donated it to the Army Medical Museum and visited it for years after? Instead you discuss tactics and how he possibly DID turn the tide at Gettysburg? Oh well, everyone has their own particular interests. A quick googling of "Sickles leg" will give you a nice photo to enjoy. You, too, can visit it in person at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, DC!

  3. Haha - thanks Kurt...you will probably want to watch this video - Cosmic America's Office Hours...watch all the way to the end! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZjqiAZr7Z8

  4. Very nice. Here is anouther Sickles piece that may be enjoyable.

    More about the trial & leg.